Ursuline, Mooney meet tonight at Stambaugh
By Greg Gulas
Ursuline High School alum Ed O’Neill said there’s nothing funny about the Fighting Irish’s annual “Holy War” battle with Cardinal Mooney, adding that “the safe bet is the underdog because they are hungrier and have something to prove.”
Don Bucci, former Cardinals head coach and current athletic director, is a veteran of 42 such contests as either a head coach or assistant.
“The game is circled by both teams once the schedules come out and in our case, we started preparing for Ursuline during summer sessions,” Bucci said.
The 62nd renewal of the series is set to take place tonight at Youngstown State’s Stambaugh Stadium with the Cardinals holding a 39-19-3 advantage and Ursuline looking to end a two-game tailspin after copping three straight from 2010-12.
While rivalry games seem to bring out the best in both teams, the Holy War just kicks the stakes up a notch as many of the players who are now playing as opponents, once were teammates during their middle school years at area Catholic schools.
“We were undefeated in 1963, my senior year, and Cardinal Mooney battled us to an 8-8 tie — the only blemish on our record that season,” O’Neill said. “Cardinal Mooney had a hell of a team and it didn’t help that we lost our quarterback, Denny Killany, and running back, Jim Shaw, in the first quarter, and then Jim Napoli in the second quarter.
“I grew up on the corner of North Heights and Ohio Avenue and we’d gather to watch the band, cheerleaders and majorettes march past my house on the way to Rayen Stadium. We’d then run up North Heights to Fifth Avenue in order to wave to the team bus, all the while jumping in the leaves while pretending to catch a touchdown pass as if we were in the game.”
Fall in the midwest still appeals to the “Modern Family” and “Married with Children” star.
“One of my idols was Paul Fleming and I remember guys like John Rorick, John Green and Fred Moosally, all of whom were tough as nails,” O’Neill said. “We’d eat at the Golden Dawn the week of the game and then at DeMain’s Royal Oaks and everyone wished us good luck. You knew the pressure and you played for those before you because they were in the stands rooting us on. You didn’t want to disappoint anyone and both teams literally left everything they had on the field.”
Former Cardinals standout and Oklahoma head football coach Bob Stoops still follows football in the Mahoning Valley and especially Mooney’s annual game with the Fighting Irish.
“It’s exciting to know that the Mooney-Ursuline rivalry continues. These two schools are prominent programs in the Youngstown area with long, traditions of success,” Stoops said. “It will be great for the entire community to experience this game and I wish both teams the best of luck.”
First-year Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi — an Ursuline graduate — will be following the game.
“The Ursuline-Cardinal Mooney football game is one that you remember for the rest of your life,” Narduzzi said. “If you win, you walk down the street with your chin held high and if you lose, then you walk the back alleys already thinking about next season’s contest.”
Ursuline (4-4) enters as the visiting team, is 3-2 in road games this season but coming off a 23-21, come-from-behind victory over Boardman
“I’m only 12 years into this rivalry but you understand early on what it means to both schools’ communities. My phone hasn’t stopped ringing since last Friday night after our game with Boardman,” Fighting Irish head coach Larry Kempe said. “Alums just wanted to remind me that it is Mooney week, as if I might forget. Both schools are in very similar situations for the playoffs and as I watch film, they’re a lot like us. When they’re healthy and playing at their best, they’re a very good football team and so are we.”
The Cardinals come in 4-3, riding a two-game winning streak and a 27-19 victory over Warren Harding, a game in which they racked up an area code (330) of rushing yards.
“Every week is a big week so from a football standpoint — the key is to prepare like any other week. Everyone has a role, from parents to the student body to alumni and most of all the players, who just need to keep their focus,” said Mooney head coach P.J. Fecko. “It’s a longstanding tradition between two great schools and programs.”
Fecko has been a part of the rivalry as either a player, assistant or head coach all but one year (1993) since 1989 and is 18-9 in 27 games played.
Cardinal Mooney tight Andrew Armstrong is a St. Christine alum who chose the Cardinals.
“We all know each other, have played with and against each other so it will come down to who wants it more,” he said. “They’re big and strong so we have to be just as physical.”
Fighting Irish center and defensive lineman Giacomo Cappabianca is another St. Christine product.
“In eighth grade we had a decision to make and it was the toughest decision of our lives,” he said. “You tend to go where your friends go and I chose Ursuline because of the tradition. It was the right for me. The game will probably come down to a big play, perhaps a touchdown, interception, fumble or even a punt return, but a big play could be the deciding factor.”
Cappabianca’s teammates, Jabbar Price and Kimauni Johnson, don’t want to graduate having lost three consecutive contests to their crosstown rivals.
“Coach Kempe and staff might look at it as another game and we won’t look ahead, but it is Mooney week and something that is very, very special. This is my last chance to get to .500 before I graduate,” Price said.
Johnson is also playing a fourth time in the rivalry.”
“They’re in our division [IV] and we’d see each other in the playoffs, so as much as they want to get a good look at us, we also want to get a good look at them,” he said.
Cardinal Mooney running back Ray Anderson (154) and quarterback Jack Lynch (142) both had 100-yard rushing efforts last week.
“This rivalry brings out the best in everyone. Fans dress up, there’s a different theme each day and whoever stays focused and has the most in their tank at the end of the game will be the winner,” Anderson said.
Lynch has a team-best five rushing tallies this season for the Cardinals.
SDLqWe need to win in order to remain in the playoff hunt so it’s do or die,” he said. “It’s been a fun week and the atmosphere in school has just been absolutely fantastic.”
Ursuline athletic director Sean Durkin perhaps put the rivalry in the proper perspective.
“It’s an extremely exciting week here. The entire school community is involved for weeks in preparation, from decorating the building, to the rally on Thursday and the tailgate party on Friday night,” he said. “Add the fact that this year’s game has extreme playoff implications and that should make [tonight] that more exciting.”